Match Preview: Whitecaps vs. Columbus Crew

Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Nine games into the 2014 season, the Vancouver Whitecaps have yet to string together consecutive victories. This afternoon, against the Black and Gold of the Columbus Crew, the Caps will have an excellent opportunity to finally get on a roll.

The Caps (3W-4D-2L) are coming off a narrow 2-1 first-leg defeat to Toronto in the Canadian Championships just three days ago, and an impressive first-half beat-down of the San Jose Earthquakes in MLS play last weekend.

Columbus (3W-3D-3L) opened the 2014 campaign with three consecutive victories, including a 2-1 win over the Seattle Sounders in their own house. But since then, it's been like watching a house of cards collapsing in slow motion for the Crew, as they're mired in a six-game winless streak.

On Wednesday, the Crew fell 1-0 to the Houston Dynamo in a match the Crew carried right from the opening kickoff. Columbus led in virtually every statistical category, including shot attempts (18), but could only test Tally Hall on 5 of those occasions. It's been a recurring theme for Columbus this season that finishing hasn't come easy for the Crew.

Caps coach Carl Robinson has thus far impressed with his roster management acumen, and will have the benefit of having most of his starters return to the pitch for today's tilt after he pitted what CTV sportscaster Perry Solkowski jokingly referred to as Robbo's "sippy-cuppers versus [TFC's] World Cuppers" on Wednesday.

Vancouver does have one sizable concern, however: Striker.

Of course, the Caps have since uncoupled from Kenny Miller, and third-year thoroughbred Darren Mattocks is out due to a hamstring injury suffered in the San Jose match. Erik Hurtado got the call for the TFC match, but that appears to have been a wrong number, as he was completely ineffective.

Wunderkind Kekutah Manneh would be the likely candidate to start up top in Vancouver's 4-2-3-1 this afternoon, but that will necessitate some re-jigging out wide in the attacking midfield. Does Robbo go full Latin for this one, with CAM Pedro Morales flanked by Sebastian Fernandez and Nicolas Mezquida? Or does Robinson reward Russell Teibert for his strong effort vs TFC, and look to slip him into the mix?

Recent callup Omar Salgado is another option, but he's not about to supplant Manneh on the depth chart. It wouldn't be terribly surprising to see him as a second half substitute if the situation dictates.

It'll be an interesting one to watch tactically. Columbus opened the season using a 4-4-1-1setup to great effect. They've since reverted to using a 4-2-3-1 for the most part. The Crew like to attack along the left side, while the Caps have a slight tendency toward the right, so look for ruts to develop along Steven Beitashour's side of the pitch.

Of course there are a pair of other matchups that will be intriguing - first there's the like-for-like comparison: Pedro Morales vs Federico Higuain. Both occupy the vital creative #10 role for their respective clubs. Higuain leads the Crew with four goals so far - the Argentine's has two assists to date, making the Crew captain the club's leading point-getter.

But who can resist the thought of Higuain vs Laba? Marble versus Granite in a test of metamorphic proportions. It's countryman vs countryman in what will probably be the key matchup for this one.

Prediction:

Vancouver 2, Columbus 1

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